A Detroit Firefighter Was Fired for Bringing Watermelon Fire Station-Truth!
Summary of eRumor:
A Detroit firefighter was discharged in September 2017 for bringing a watermelon to a fire station where mostly black firefighters worked, which was taken as a play on an old racial stereotype.
A Detroit firefighter was fired after he brought a watermelon wrapped in a pink ribbon to a fire station comprised mostly of black firefighters in September 2017.
Robert Pattison was a 41-year-old probationary firefighter when the situation occurred. It’s customary for new recruits to introduce themselves to their fellow firefighters, and to come bearing a gift (usually donuts). Pattison bucked tradition and brought a watermelon topped with a pink ribbon to Engine 55, where 90 percent of the firefighters are black, Fox 2 Detroit reports:
“When you get your first detail at a firehouse you pretty much know what you are getting yourself into,” says Patrick Trout. “So you would have to say it was probably a bad call.”
FOX 2: “Is it racially insensitive to bring a watermelon into a fire house?”
“To some people,” (Second Battalion Chief Shawn) McCarty says.
FOX 2 spoke to Pattison by phone, who claims it was not a joke — and he did not mean to offend his fellow firefighters. But he clearly did. Fire Commissioner Eric Jones says the Fenton native was officially discharged.
After reports that a Detroit firefighter was fired for bringing a watermelon to the fire station, Jones released a statement summarizing the situation: “There is zero tolerance for discriminatory behavior inside the Detroit Fire Department. On Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, at Engine 55, a trial firefighter (probationary employee) engaged in unsatisfactory work behavior which was deemed offensive and racially insensitive to members of the Detroit Fire Department.”
So, why would bringing a watermelon to a fire station staffed by mostly black firefighters be deemed racially incentivize or even racist? Atlantic writer William Black notes that the origins of the Watermelon trope date all the way back to the Civil War era. After emancipation, many former slaves grew, ate and sold watermelons for sustenance, and watermelons became a symbol of freedom for them. However, watermelons also became a symbol of resentment of newly freed slaves:
Southern whites, threatened by blacks’ newfound freedom, responded by making the fruit a symbol of black people’s perceived uncleanliness, laziness, childishness, and unwanted public presence. This racist trope then exploded in American popular culture, becoming so pervasive that its historical origin became obscure. Few Americans in 1900 would’ve guessed the stereotype was less than half a century old.
The “discriminatory behavior” that Chief McCarty referred to in his statement is the new recruit’s apparent play on the 150-year-old trope about black people and watermelon (although the recruit disputes that). So, in conclusion, it’s true that a firefighter in Detroit was fired for bringing a watermelon to a fire station.